Syrians are devastated by their ongoing civil war, which during more than 2,000 days has forced more than half of them from their homes. It has also caused an estimated 400,000 deaths since 2011 in what the U.N. humanitarian chief, Stephen O’Brien, says is a “pitiless and merciless abyss of a humanitarian catastrophe.” It has contributed to Europe’s worst refugee crisis since World War II and allowed the inhuman ISIS to emerge in a struggle affecting the entire region.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s truce agreement with Russia of Sept. 9 this year would have permitted aid deliveries to reach desperate civilians in rebel-held parts of Aleppo. On Sept. 19, despite it, Russian and Syrian planes destroyed at least 18 of 31 trucks in a U.N. convoy carrying humanitarian aid to Aleppo. The normally diplomatic U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described the attack as “savage and apparently deliberate,” adding that the fate of Syria could not depend on the “future of one man.”
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power accused Russia’s government of “barbarism” at the Sept. 25 Security Council emergency meeting. She added that Russia has “long had the power to stop this suffering … Instead of peace, Russia and Assad make war. Instead of getting life-saving aid to Syrians, … (they) are bombing hospitals and first responders.”
On Oct. 7, Secretary of State John Kerry called for a war crimes investigation of Russia and Syria. He said Syrian forces had hit a hospital the previous night outside Damascus, killing 20 and wounding 100. “Russia and the regime owe the world more than an explanation about why they keep hitting hospitals and medical facilities, and children and women … These are acts that beg for an appropriate investigation of war crimes.”
Tensions deepened further in the U.N. Security Council on Oct. 9 when Russia vetoed a resolution drafted by France, demanding an immediate end to the bombing campaign being carried out by Russia in Aleppo. A rival measure put forward by Russia, which called for a cease-fire but made no mention of a halt to the airstrikes, was rejected after failing to obtain nine votes from the 15-member council. It was the fifth time since 2011 that Moscow has used its veto to block U.N. action in Syria and evoked more calls for reforming veto use at the Council.
Putin launched his air campaign in Syria a year ago, helping al-Assad to cling to power by applying methods he used with terrifying consequences in Grozny, the Chechen capital. President Obama was out-maneuvered earlier on the “red line” in response to the use of chemical weapons on Syrians by al-Assad and on successive U.S. attempts to achieve a cease-fire. Hand-wringing is seen as the main Western response today by many desperate Syrians.
Syrian and Russian forces, together with Iranian and Hezbollah militia fighters, are now seeking to finish the siege of Aleppo. The estimated 275,000 persons who remain in the city are being told to flee. Thousands probably will; those who remain will suffer more relentless, indiscriminate bombing. When Putin, al-Assad, and their allies have slaughtered all who stand in their way, they will proclaim a “peace of the dead.”
Edward Lucas of The Economist observes correctly: “The old cold war is indeed over … The new cold war … is fought on different fronts, for different aims. Russia uses money, propaganda, cyber-subversion, and other tactics to disrupt and weaken its neighbors and the West generally.”
The U.S. and its coalition partners should issue a no-fly ultimatum to al-Assad and be prepared to follow through. If Putin continues bombing, he should know that his aircraft will be at risk. Safe zones are badly needed for Syrian civilians; we must protect them against violations by al-Assad, Putin, and other extremists. More robust military assistance is certainly needed for the vetted Syrian opposition groups fighting al-Assad.
Meanwhile, Putin is giving indications aplenty, including in Syria, that he wants to achieve as many tactical advantages as feasible before the U.S. election.
David Kilgour, a lawyer by profession, served in Canada’s House of Commons for almost 27 years. In Jean Chretien’s Cabinet, he was secretary of state (Africa and Latin America) and secretary of state (Asia-Pacific). He is the author of several books and co-author with David Matas of “Bloody Harvest: The Killing of Falun Gong for Their Organs.”
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.